When it comes to body condition scoring sows, a visual assessment can be inaccurate up to 50% of the time, says Ron Bates of Michigan State University Extension. 

“Underfeeding or overfeeding sows can unfavorably impact sow productivity and therefore adversely affect cost of production,” Bates says.

Thanks to today’s technology advancements, there are far more accurate ways to determine sow weights.

“Automated weight monitoring in an electronic sow feeding (ESF) system provides highly accurate weight data and insights,” says Rich Lepper, application and service manager, Nedap Livestock Management–North America. “It eliminates the guesswork of body condition scoring and gives you solid data for better informed management decisions.”

Here are four ways automated weight monitoring pays you back:

1. Boost feed efficiency.

Feed costs make up to 60-70% of pork producers’ operational costs. ESF can help farms achieve up to 20% in feed savings in group gestation housing compared to stalls. Automated weight monitoring can further increase your feed efficiency.

Automated weight monitoring records a sow’s exact weight as she walks across a scale after exiting an ESF station using RFID technology. You can view a sow’s current weight, her weight trends over time and her weight in comparison to a customizable target. ESF systems then allow you to adjust diets accordingly based on individual sow needs to help each maintain optimal BCS.

Close-up of resting sows

2. Make your time count.

Weighing sows or measuring body condition with a caliper is time-consuming. Because of this, many farmers choose to “guess” at sow BCS. With shrinking labor pools, fewer workers are skilled in the ability to accurately guess a sow’s weight and BCS.

Automated weight monitoring automatically collects and transmits sow weights to a central database where producers can find actionable data without added labor costs.

John Van Engelen of Hog-Tied Farms Ltd. in Thedford, Ontario, Canada, says he originally kept a scale in his dry sow barn for monitoring sows that were heavily overweight or for more precise feeding. But after hearing the latest research on the optimum breeding of gilts, he moved the scale to his newly renovated gilt room.

“My breeding company works to breed gilts based on both age and weight. We don’t want to breed an underweight gilt. Plus, this is also the starting point to maintain an optimal weight and hopefully decrease the amount of heavily overweight sows in the dry sow barn,” Van Engelen says.

Because 60-70% of cost for a pig farmer is feed, using condition, gestation length and weight allows farmers to feed animals much more efficiently. There’s no such thing as too much data, he says.

3. Wrong guesses can be costly.

Guessing weights incorrectly on gilts can be very costly because gilts will be challenged at first parity. In second parity, females are likely to experience a reduced ability to breed back and may have smaller litter sizes due to lower BCS. On the other hand, gilts bred when they are too heavy can experience reduced milk production.

Automated weight monitoring provides data that allows producers to breed gilts at the optimal weight.

Studies show overweight sows have a more difficult time farrowing. Van Engelen wants to feed a sow what she needs based on her condition and length of gestation. Overfeeding is essentially a waste, he adds.

“If an animal has dropped in weight, the system will send out an alert,” he says. “Before you can even see a problem in the sow/gilt, you are notified something isn’t right.”

4. Get more (and heavier) piglets.

Fat sows typically wean 0.5 fewer piglets per litter. Fat sows also require a longer time to farrow. When the contraction-inducing hormone oxytocin is distributed over more weight, it can lead to weaker contractions and slower farrowing time.

Milk production worsens, too. Piglets with lower weaning weights often record 37% sow wastage (anestrus, failing to conceive, aborting or non-pregnant at term) compared to 11% for piglets with heavier weaning weights, according to Ken Stalder, professor at Iowa State University.

“Automated weight monitoring empowers you to monitor individual sow’s current weights, individual sow weight trends over time and overall herd weight averages,” Lepper says. “This enables you to adjust diets accordingly using ESF to optimize sow and pig performance.”